Album Review: Fousheé – softCORE

[RCA; 2022]

By now her story is well known, but still bears repeating: Fousheé had been coming at the music business for years, even appearing as a contestant on NBC’s The Voice in 2018 – a show notorious for its inability to fast-track anyone except C-list country artists. Success wanted a more convoluted path: sample her voice and strap it to a beat; sell the beat (called “deep end”) along with others in a sample pack; have Sleepy Hallow select “deep end” for a 2020 freestyle; see the freestyle become a minor sensation for TikTokkers; prompt TikTokkers investigate to learn the owner of the voice; allow Fousheé’s family convince her to step forward and defy the spirit of the sample-pack code.

Since, the fleshed-out version of “deep end” has joined Spotify’s quarter-billion streams club and the songwriter has collaborated with Steve Lacy – she cowrote “Bad Habit” – and King Princess. Her debut album, 2021’s time machine, was released in conjunction with RCA, for which she is now a fully-fledged roster member.

Yet her breakout has never felt complete. For one, it began during the depth of pandemic restrictions and when homebound TikTok users handed out stardom weekly. For another, her idiosyncratic if unbeguiling debut clung tightly to “deep end” in – take your pick – cynical or nervous fashion. After all, she had effectively rejected “deep end” for her personal use only for it to return and presume to define her.

The follow up, softCORE, puts an end to that. For an album so desperate to say ‘Look at me! I’m different!’ it’s a surprisingly cohesive and convincing relaunch. Fousheé piles her plate (patriarchy, racial identity, personal identity, sexual politics) and acts decisively, clearing the decks immediately with the Runaways tribute, “Simmer Down”. It introduces not only a raging, 200bpm tempo, fuzz bass, and a middle finger so stiff you wonder how she plays guitar with it, but most significantly the reinvention of her voice.

It cannot be understated the risk she has accepted here; “deep end” made her a star because fans craved her singing’s mystery and melancholy. She has said in interviews that she has an overdeveloped falsetto because, while she liked to sing R&B belters, she was shy and taught herself to sing quietly. Well, that falsetto is on full display on “Simmer Down” and is a mistimed squeak away from popping like a balloon.

If softCORE is porn, then the kink is experiencing Fousheé’s voice smash with a dozen tracks wearing different disguises, like Prince’s Camille alter-ego on a journey from Milan to Minsk. “I’m Fine” returns to “deep end” tones only to be violated by white-hot screaming, while “Bored” veers from Brooke Candy to SZA over a double-bass, industrial/hyperpop beat. “Supernova”, syncopated by an unassuming guitar melody, showcases the extent of her vocal command – perhaps the world’s first helium-based banger. The Lil Uzi Vert collaboration “Spend the Money” has her vampily sing with her hair covering her eyes; the out-of-breath “Die” channels Le Tigre and Flo Milli; and “Stupid Bitch” collapses after 50 panic-stations seconds and cheekily folds itself into the music-box milieu of her former identity.

Songs like “Smile” and “Let You Back In” might offer encouragement to her original fans, but as the softer edges of softCORE they very clearly represent the past. In the four years since The Voice, Fousheé has a new one and her breakout is complete.